With ‘Our Town,’ Perseverance Theatre finds life in a classic

With ‘Our Town,’ Perseverance Theatre finds life in a classic

Performances make Wilder’s work fun

Grover’s Corners is a fine place to visit for an evening.

The fictional New Hampshire town is the setting of Thornton Wilder’s classic play “Our Town,” which officially opened Perseverance Theatre’s 40th season Friday with the full breadth of the human experience.

“Our Town” is an 80-year-old American standard, but its postmodern fourth wall breaking and time shifts still seem fresh.

Frank Henry Kaash Katasse portrayed the character of Stage Manager on Friday with genial warmth and comedy chops.

During the introduction to Grover’s Corners and the cast, which opens “Our Town,” Katasse introduced himself as “not Irene Bedard” because he was filling in for the Anchorage-born actor who will fill the role in the lion’s share of the production’s run.

Katasse’s response to learning the political makeup of the town from Brian Wescott’s studious and slightly dazed Mr. Webb helped ground an otherwise unknowable but all-knowing force.

The aloof energy added a casual humanity to an omniscient narrator often tasked with unloading unpleasant exposition onto the audience, and Katasse’s timing and facial expressions drew laughs in the earlier, lighter portions of the play.

Similarly, Perseverance Theatre’s all-Alaskan cast fully leans into the moments that would have been quaint even when the play set in the early 1900s was new in 1938.

Shadow Meienberg as Mrs. Gibbs gets to deliver several housewife-isms that June Cleaver would find old fashioned, and they were a hit with the mostly full theater opening night.

“All he thinks about is that baseball,” “I’ll come up and slap the both of you, that’s what I’ll do,” and “Seems to me at least once before you die you should visit a country where they don’t speak English and don’t even wanna,” all drew laughs.

Nearly the entirety of the first act of the play is filled with the pleasantness of meeting the town’s quaint but quirky occupants and encountering the nascent love story between Emily Webb and George Gibbs, portrayed respectively by Ashleigh Watt and Ty Yamaoka.

Young actors Watt and Yamaoka make their George and Emily a believably awkward young couple, and they each imbue their character’s interactions with their parents with a benevolent rebellion.

However, amid the fun, warnings that the buttermilk serenity of Grover’s Corner will curdle come early and often.

One character observes birth and death rate are constant, an instructor tells his choir to just die off toward the end of the second part of a song, and an envelope is addressed in a way that underscores the infinitesimally small niche man fills in the universe.

While it’s not unforeseen — especially for anyone who had Wilder as required reading in school — when the play takes a turn toward the dark, it is genuinely affecting.

Enrique Bravo’s New England-accented Dr. Gibbs, Caleb Bourgeois’ kind drunk Simon Stimson and Valorie Kissel’s stern Mrs.Webb feel lived-in — complete with foibles and pain.

The inevitable, grim conclusion comes across as sad but wholly unavoidable.

But there is an affirming seize-the-day message as a kind of counterbalance, and a reminder that another day to enjoy is coming up shortly are some of the show’s last words.

Thursday through Sundays during the next month, there will be another showing of “Our Town” to look forward to, too.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at 523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @benhohenstatt.


Valorie Kissel, left, as Mrs. Webb and Shadow Meienberg as Mrs. Gibbs perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Valorie Kissel, left, as Mrs. Webb and Shadow Meienberg as Mrs. Gibbs perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ashleigh Watt, left, as Emily, and Ty Yamaoka, as George, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ashleigh Watt, left, as Emily, and Ty Yamaoka, as George, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George and Erika Bergren as Rebecca perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George and Erika Bergren as Rebecca perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George, Ashleigh Watt as Emily, and Frank Katasse as the Stage Manager perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George, Ashleigh Watt as Emily, and Frank Katasse as the Stage Manager perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Felix Thillet, left, as Constable Warren, and Caleb Bourgeois, as Howie Newsome, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Felix Thillet, left, as Constable Warren, and Caleb Bourgeois, as Howie Newsome, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George, and Brían Wescott, as Mr. Webb, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George, and Brían Wescott, as Mr. Webb, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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